i never used to watch weather--the seasons within each season, the daily differences in apparent sameness. now i watch it all the time. autumn is the most amazing season to me, both for weather and for its memories. september is the beginning of the real new year. summer has been quiet, moody, sometimes cruel in its insistence on feeling like vacation when, once you're past grade school, life rarely goes along with the feeling. you want to be outdoors in the summer, or you want to want to be outdoors. you feel you should be on the beach, or at least your backyard sipping lemonade from a package that pretends to be real lemonade like grandma used to make, whether grandma ever made lemonade or not. i have an almost religious attachment to having iced coffee in the afternoon: summer begins with putting coffee cups away and ends with digging them out again.
autumn is a season of renewal as much as of dying, and that commonplace paradox always hits me anew. the leaves are so astoundingly alive in their dying. add to that the fact that schools begin again and, far more important to a kid raised right outside manhattan, the theatre season begins. plays, ballets, operas--all start up again. even television starts up again. by the official new year, january, we're jaded and cold and tired. but autumn is always full of promise.
in my childhood, the thought of school wasn't upsetting, and the thought of theatre was exhilarating. and there was the smell! long before we thought about pollution, everyone in a neighborhood of houses burned leaves in the fall. for the adults it was doubtless annoying. not for the kids though. first there was the business of raking the leaves into huge piles which, when you had formed, you jumped or ran into. twigs scratched and bugs got into your nose, but lord playing in the leaves was fun! and then you reraked and rejumped and reslapped the dirt and broken leaves off yourself and then started the whole thing over again, until parents lost patience and brought out the matches. and no one minded that we'd lost our game; we knew there were plenty of leaves and lots more piling before the winter began. besides, watching the leaves burn was gorgeous, the color of the leaves and the color of the flames and the smell that was like no other smell in the world, the smell of clean, contained burning. better even than chimney smoke because it was right there beside you.
we lived in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in queens, a linoleum rug sort of neighborhood which we believed--i did, anyway--was a 'suburb.' well, it certainly wasn't the city, that golden dream of a city you could get to in half an hour from the subway, the city that inspired our dreams as much as they did the dreams of kids from the midwest or the rest of the east coast, for that matter. but in the real city, so vastly superior in my young mind to our cozy-houses home, they didn't burn leaves in the fall, and so i was happy enough to live outside the dreamworld in that time. i was lucky too, though i didn't realize it, that large maple trees lined the streets, forming a block-long canopy even in winter, and turned our ordinary street into something spectacularly beautiful.
i missed those maples when i moved away from home, and at first i was disappointed in the less flashy trees in my boston-area homes. it took a few years living in brookline to start seeing that the quieter leaves have their own changing beauty. now it amazes me to look at the yellow leaves falling outside my window and recall how i had never noticed them. they go from green to light green to dark yellow to light yellow, a little sparser with each iteration. one tree is a different sort than the others and it's now totally bare, but its neighbor retains its changing leaves, only very slowly letting go of them.
and then there's the magic forest. i see the magic forest only from the trolley that goes a dozen stops or so above ground before it grinds into the dreary if convenient underworld of the subway. i always read on subways, partly just for the chance to read, partly because it helps me forget i'm underground. now i almost never read until we start going under.....there's too much to see in every season. in the fall, this ride comprises a daily mini-foliage viewing for me. so many different trees and bushes, so many different gradations of autumn! who needs to drive into the country to experience the leaves' colors? the bush across the street from the elders home is extraordinary, green that begins turning red from the top down, so it looks first like a fringe of red hair, then snakes its way toward the bottom, streaking the green with odd, living patterns. the other trees turn mostly shades of yellow and green, highlighted the peculiar reddening bush. across the street, the vines climbing up the small white house with the travel agency on the first floor are thick, thicker than the window they cover, and are fire yellow this time of year until they get sparser and sparser and you see the window again, and then they're gone.
but back to the magic forest. my street is blessedly flat, and thus good for an aging asthmatic who needs to take walks, but right behind it are steep-hilled streets, whose tops you can see nicely from the trolley windows. right at washington street (across from the white house with the vines and the travel agent) the hilltops are covered with multiple trees. for three seasons, they get so full and so large you can see only the partial facade of one building in their midst, and it is pretty and big enough to be a castle. i don't know when i decided to people that area with fairies and goblins and bambi-deer and mysterious unnamed beasties, but it grew into my consciousness fully formed, and now each day i find the seat on the train from which i can best see the magic forest. it is at its most magic in the autumn, with even a few apparent maples in its midst. 20 seconds of bliss a day....
the season is turning toward winter now, the leaves thinner and thinner on the branches, thicker and thicker on the ground. still lovely, but with the death-essence of autumn visible. more buildings show through the magic forests, and though they are pleasant looking homes, they are not castles or palaces, and no fairy beings inhabit them. the magic will return for a day or two in winter, and of course there is a regal, stem beauty in bare branches that is its own enchantment. but the fairies have retreated and the humans have returned to the hill. the magic of the forest lies fallow, but it waits for spring. me, i have no time for waiting. the autumn is leaving, there's a new season to be lived and watched, and cherished.